“We'll never be as young as we are now
The faces in the crowd are thinning out
And I'm not saying stick around, but stick around
And we may never have another like today, tomorrow is brand new start away
And we'll never be as young as we are now, as we are now.”
–Saint Raymond, As We Are Now
2015 ended with a few words I thought I’d never hear:
“Well, there’s no need to make another appointment today. Hopefully, I won’t see you for a long time.”
I was standing in my doctor’s office when I heard those glorious words. My doctor worked closely with my urologist (one floor down) and my gynecologist (across the street). They all agreed that with my internal pain slowly subsiding, my elevated blood pressure back to normal, and having pristine blood work and kidney ultrasound results, I was free to go on with my life.
It wasn’t until I pushed the elevator button—the one I pushed with shaky hands over and over throughout the past year—that I was overcome with emotion.
“I won’t be back here for a long, long time,” I whispered, both as a promise and a prayer.
I would never be able to un-see what I saw at my impressive collection of hospital stays, CT scans, and medical appointments over the past year. But what I saw at the cardiovascular institute for my recent kidney ultrasound offered the greatest motivation to care for this precious body God gave me.
A long, healthy life doesn't happen “by accident,” and I knew some of my poor habits would catch up with me eventually. Although I am a daily exerciser and healthy eater, I still had two problem areas that could greatly harm my health. I still hadn’t kicked my on-going Coke Zero addiction and often sacrificed sleep to get work completed.
“It’s time,” I said out loud, knowing the new year was an ideal time to ditch old habits and begin new ones.
“But … but … but …” my inner Taskmaster quickly piped up making a clear argument for keeping Coke Zero and late nights in the picture. And it was a good one: I had an entire book to write.
The manuscript for my third book is due to my publisher on March 1st. Due to the resurgence of health issues in November and December, I was not able to begin writing the manuscript as planned. This left me with the challenge of writing 70,000 words in eight weeks. Even for the most proficient writer, that is quite an undertaking.
“That’ll take a lot of Coke Zero and many late nights,” my inner Taskmaster said smugly.
“No, no, no, no, no,” my Self-Care Advocate piped up. She was new. I hadn’t really needed her until my on-going pain could no longer be ignored. She asserted herself to puzzled medical specialists who suggested I might have to “live with it”. I also heard her voice when I needed stern reminders to take care of myself so I can be here to nurture and guide my daughters as they grow.
Because it was not yet January 1st when I had this little talk with myself, I promised to think about it. Although it seems like a no brainer, sometimes productivity and perfection overpower self-care and common sense in my Type A brain. But this time, I promised myself I would consider giving up soda and late nights despite the writing challenge ahead.
On January 1st, I did what I always do before I begin writing a book. I created a Writing Calendar. Although writing is my passion, the thought of “writing a book” causes stress, doubt, anxiety, and feelings of overwhelm. Drafting a 70,000-word manuscript requires great discipline, focus, and stamina. And because I know from past experience how hard this process is for me, it makes getting started very difficult. So on January 1st, I did what I did for Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life – I broke down the parts of my book into small, achievable chunks and wrote one chunk inside each box of my blank calendar. Eventually, those small chunks would add up to a completed goal—a finished book on March 1!
The task for January 1st on my new Writing Calendar immediately stared at me. It said: “Book intro”. Of course, the book intro is the hardest part for me. I took a deep breath. “Time to start writing,” I said to myself.
“And crack open an ice, cold can of pure energy,” added my inner Taskmaster.
I ignored the temptation and instead reported to my family there would be no more Coke Zeros for me except on special occasions. My daughters actually got up and hugged me. Their relief and excitement was exactly the motivation I needed. I filled a pitcher with water and sliced lemons. I decided to keep track of my water consumption on a sticky note. The filled note at the end of the day would bring a feeling of triumph and fuel me forward.
My head began to hurt from the lack of caffeine, but I knew it would only be temporary. I was looking forward to being less tired and having glowing skin, among countless other health benefits attributed to increased water consumption.
Later that night, I came across an article entitled, “50 Ways Happier, Healthier, and More Successful People Live on Their Own Terms”. The title intrigued me (or maybe it was the photo of Bradley Cooper) so I began to read it. The first recommendation on the list was was “stop consuming caffeine”. It said:
“Although people think they perform better on caffeine, the truth is, they really don’t …With healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise, your body will naturally produce far more and better energy than caffeine could ever provide. Give it up and see what happens. You will probably get withdrawal headaches. But after a few days, you’ll feel amazing.”
I actually looked over my shoulder. Someone was definitely trying to tell me something.
I kept reading. Soon, I got to #14: “Get 7+ hours a sleep a night.” The article linked healthy amounts of sleep to:
- Longer life
- Decreased inflammation
- Increased creativity
- Increased attention and focus
- Decreased fat and increased muscle mass with exercise
- Lower stress
- Decreased dependence on stimulants like caffeine
- Decreased risk of getting into accidents
- Decreased risk of depression
Again, I had an overwhelming sense these words were written for me; they provided a solid base on which I could create more positive habits. By the time I got to #32: “drink 32-100 ounces of water a day,” I knew coming across this article was no coincidence. Whether used individually or as a collection, I felt certain these 50 recommendations were the building blocks of an improved, longer life. Hadn’t that been my promise and prayer? To care for my body and organs so they would last for a very long time. This required me to care for my body daily—not just when it was convenient or easy, but especially when life was challenging and stressful.
I knew exactly what I must do.
I printed out another blank calendar for the month of January and February just like I did for my book. I had a Writing Calendar and now I would also have a Living Calendar—each block would contain a few daily goals from the list of 50 that, over time, would add up to improved health, improved example setting for my daughters, and an improved way of life.
Since I’d already begun decreasing my caffeine intake and adding more water, I decided to adopt the water goal. I also needed the sleep goal. I wrote those three goals in my calendar boxes for 21 days, marking each one with a smiley face upon successful completion.
So far so good. I successfully consumed only four Coke Zeros over the past 21 days and had only one night with less than seven hours of sleep. For me, this was good—this was very good. A year ago I wouldn’t have even imagined writing a book without an IV of Coke Zero and perpetual all-nighters.
After 21 days I had the water goal down pat so I went back to the list and picked a new goal to add. Grasping joy is always important to me and harder to do when I am under a lot of stress. So I wrote down #12 from the list: “Do something kind for someone daily.” To me, offering kindness brings joy.
As fate would have it, I was quickly tested.
“Mom what was my first word when I was a baby?” my younger daughter said as we drove home from swim team practice.
I knew her sister’s first word, but I could not think of hers. “We will have to check your baby book sometime,” I said secretly hoping she would forget about it. I honestly didn’t even know if I had written it down.
“When we get home?” she asked.
I really didn’t want to—there was a lot to do—dinner, homework, bedtime, and book writing. But then I thought about my Living Calendar. Do one thing kind day. This would surely count as a couple days worth of kindness, I decided. “Okay,” I agreed and received a cheer of joy from the backseat in response.
Upon arrival, I immediately went to the family room cabinet. Buried beneath old photo albums was what my daughter was looking for. But instead of feeling relieved that I’d located it, my heart sank. I’d called it a baby book, but it was it was simply a calendar with one detail about the day documented in each box. It had been a rough year to say the least. Going from one to two children was a difficult adjustment for me—especially since Avery had raging colic for five solid months. To make matters worse, we moved to a new state, taking me away from my supportive parents and friends. My husband had to travel during the week. I was homesick, lonely, and depressed. Maintaining a baby book seemed overwhelming and impossible. I’d gone into the Hallmark store and cried with joy when I saw “Baby’s First Year Calendar.” Even on the hardest days, I was able to document one notable detail about this precious baby girl.
And now, nine years later, I was so thankful I did.
“Oh good! You found it,” my daughter exclaimed while patting the seat next to her. If she was disappointed by the flimsy excuse for a baby book, she sure didn’t show it. My child’s face held the look of pure joy, as if about to open a long-awaited gift.
I began reading my notes scribbled in tired handwriting inside each calendar box. Some details I’d forgotten. Other details triggered additional memories that I was delighted to share.
My daughter soaked up every morsel of information about her baby self. She laughed at some of the discoveries and said “awwww” at others. When we got to the square that contained her first word, “Dada,” we both laughed. That was her sister’s first word too.
“No fair!” I said. “I should have at least gotten ‘Mama’ from at least one of you!” I teased.
That’s when my girl wrapped her arms around me and said, “I love you, Mama! You took such good care of me. This is the best book ever!”
After she got up, I hugged that Living Calendar to my chest and felt an overwhelming sense of relief and hope for me and for you. Even in the most difficult periods, even when we face great obstacles, we can still do something good for our bodies, our beloved people, and our futures. And just one small effort each day can add up to something glorious.
To that tired, depressed mama dutifully caring for her precious ones …
To that weary book writer praying the words will flow …
To that feisty survivor wondering what the pain level will be today …
To that broken-hearted believer searching for answers and a little hope …
To the gray-haired dreamer not quite ready to give up on the dream …
To that fearful protector facing another battle on this bitter, cold day …
To that perpetual worrier wringing her hands over the state of things …
Just because you are in the midst of challenge doesn’t mean you can’t keep moving forward …
Tiny steps count.
Just because you face a giant obstacle doesn’t mean you should let it get in the way of living …
Small actions make a difference.
Just because you’re not out of the woods doesn’t mean you should stopping looking for the sun …
Miniscule efforts light the path.
Today offers one empty box in the Calendar of Life. Use it to do one good thing for your body, heart, mind, or soul despite its inconvenience at a time like this.
Then do it again tomorrow … and the day after that … and the day after that.
Someday, maybe nine days … nine months … or nine years from now, those small daily actions will be enough to fill an entire book.
And the title will be: I Didn’t Just Survive—I Lived.
One empty box. One positive action. Let the living begin.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, thank you for taking your precious time to read the longest blog post I have ever written. Writing this post took more time and energy than I planned, but if I have learned anything from my on-going health issues it is this: leave nothing unsaid. When there’s a message on your heart, share it. I know I am not alone when I say taking care of myself does not come naturally. But I received the wake up call of a lifetime this past year, and now I feel compelled to talk about the importance of taking care of YOU. If this post inspires even one person to drink more water, sleep longer, visit the doctor, or sit down and rest once in awhile, I will be so happy. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to write these words, as well as my third book. I am trying not to take these glorious pain-free days for granted and use them for good.
I also need to tell you that you are the reason my third book is coming to fruition. Over the years, many of you have said how much you would love a book of daily inspirations to set your day in a positive direction or end your night on a peaceful note. My book proposal was accepted by my publisher and the book is coming to life in ways I never imagined. Your book is called ONLY LOVE TODAY, and it hits bookstores a little over a year from now. (Book publishing is a LONG process). I cannot wait to present ONLY LOVE TODAY to you! What a blessing it is to be the messenger for the important and hopeful truths contained in this book. What a blessing it is to walk beside you. Your prayers and words of loving supportive were instrumental to my recovery and optimism.
Friends, this is my birthday week so things will be quiet on the Hands Free Revolution community page as I practice a little extra self-care and do some celebrating. Indiana friends, I cannot wait to see you on Saturday, 1/30/16 at 2:30pm at the Indy Women’s Expo! Click here for all the information.
Hands Free Life is back in stock on Amazon! Thank you for showing my publisher how much you value and cherish my work through your purchases of my books! My family & I are so thankful for each & every one of you.
And lastly, if anyone is still interested in joining A Simple Year, 12 months of guided simplicity with me & eight other simplicity authors, it's not too late! Registration will be open through the end of January. Learn more here.